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Ontario Power Generation has selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to help build a small modular reactor at its existing Darlington nuclear power plant, the first new reactor on Canadian soil in well over three decades.

OPG has selected GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 reactor. The utility will make the announcement on Thursday morning, alongside Energy Minister Todd Smith.

OPG and North Carolina-based GE Hitachi will collaborate on engineering, design and planning with the goal of building Canada’s first commercial grid-scale small modular reactor, or SMR, and completing it as early as 2028, according to a news release. The estimated price tag could be up to $3-billion.

The announcement is a triumph for GE Hitachi and a setback for competitors. OPG is one of only a handful of utilities worldwide with firm plans to build an SMR and significant expertise operating nuclear plants.

Oakville, Ont.-based Terrestrial Energy and X-energy, a U.S.-based vendor, had previously been named as candidates. In an interview this summer, an executive for NuScale, another U.S.-based vendor with a relatively mature SMR design, said his company was also in the running and had “prioritized” the Canadian market.

Officials in Saskatchewan indicated they are considering building reactors of the same design selected by OPG, so this announcement could lead to further sales.

Selecting a foreign vendor marks a new chapter for Canada’s nuclear industry. The country’s four operating plants all feature CANDU, or Canada Deuterium Uranium, reactors, a homegrown design. For months, competing vendors have trumpeted partnerships with Canadian suppliers and the economic benefits they would bring; last month, Terrestrial urged Ontario to select its reactor “rather than a technology developed outside of Canada.”

The Ontario government has promoted the use of SMRs as a way to provide clean nuclear energy, with a single SMR of about 300 megawatts able to prevent up to 2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year. The province also says it will create hundreds of jobs and increase revenue by almost $900-million.

In December, 2019, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, alongside the premiers of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to collaborate on small modular reactors, a project they say would generate clean and low-cost energy. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told reporters the reactors will not be built for five to 10 years, but would help the provinces reduce carbon emissions and move away from non-renewable energy sources such as coal.

In its annual review of global nuclear industry developments released in September, Paris-based consultancy Mycle Schneider Consulting maintained its long-standing skepticism regarding SMRs. “This year’s update does not reveal any major advances but some modest progress,” it noted.

“Overall, there are additional delays in development and construction, and no new design certifications beyond an already outdated NuScale design in the U.S. There are thus no new signs of a major breakthrough for SMRs, neither technologically nor commercially.”

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